I used Dead Island Riptide as a way to kill some time before I could upgrade my graphics card and as time killers go, I could’ve done worse. It’s very similar overall to its predecessor, Dead Island, and follows the story directly, so you should definitely play that first.
Another Game, Another Zombie
A pleasant little surprise was that I could import my character from the first game, keeping skills that I’d picked before. Because I therefore started the game at Level 43 (with 70 as the cap and 15 as the default starting level), I don’t know how that affected my playthrough.
I said in my Dead Island review a lot that’s still true; the combat engine felt like it was copied exactly across with all the old techniques still working. You can jump kick, sidestep, flying hit, stomp and dart around just like you could in the original, but they also added a new ‘charge’ technique that I barely used and completely forgot about. These games are all about routine, you see.
When you encounter an enemy, you will undoubtedly have a preferred method of dealing with them and more so if you played this after the first game. In most cases this involved swinging my sword at their head and moving in circles to avoid their clumsy swipes at me. Even the special enemies all have sneaky ways of dealing with them. This is all a good thing, I guess, as it means the combat flows and adapts around the number and type of enemy nearby.
The Blood In The Water
My issues, however, come from a few things that never really went away. Despite being a very high level, all the enemies did about the same percentage of damage, devaluing the point of levelling up; even at the end a few hits from a basic Walker could kill me. Admittedly there’s very little cost to dying (except a literal cash hit) and previously killed enemies stay dead, but that makes you care little about death.
Then there are the new special enemies. Dead Island has never been scary to me; despite the gore and the zombies and the gore and the darkness and the gore, it’s just never been scary. Maybe it’s because death means little to the protagonist, maybe it’s because it’s mostly set in bright holiday destinations, maybe I’m just desensitised to such things. Whatever it is, I’ve never been scared by anything in these games. Except the Drowner and the Screamer. Screw those guys. They’ve both been designed to be very overpowered and with creepy, wide-eyed expressions that just chill me. Add to that their fondness for running at you and staring you in the face and I took to nuking Screamers from half a mile away.
While I’m complaining, this game felt buggier than the original, too. More than a few times, new zombies would spawn in slightly out of sight but right next to me (as in I empty an area, turn around and there are more where I just killed some), one area had infinitely spawning enemies staggered in such a way that I couldn’t climb a ladder without one of them knocking me back off and more times than is acceptable (which is to say at all), I found myself fighting zombies that were inside my own body.
There’s just such a range to the animations the zombies display. It’s quite incredible. They run at you, they stagger, they pick themselves up, flop, eat, trip… Even post-death animations. I blew one’s head off with a shotgun and its arms flailed pointlessly for a few seconds before its body collapsed. While that’s all impressive, I suspect that it was an attacking animation that moved the zombie to be stood exactly where I was, so I had to move away to fight it again.
Just Another Zombie Story
The story’s not great. It’s considerably shorter than the first. Or it felt that way. I have almost 50 hours in Dead Island, but I’ve almost 100%ed Riptide in half that. The human animations are still beyond terrible. Weird, intense, bug-eyed staring as they talk; shaky, nervous wiggling around when they’re supposed to be standing still; out of place, casual idle animations… Once I was having an argument with someone about the possibility of abandoning civilians and the guy was happily chucking his spike-studded mace from hand to hand like a child.
This doesn’t feel like a polished game, nor a long one. This feels like a rushed-out sequel using 90% of the original game’s assets. The maps are smaller and mostly more linear, but the city in this one is much more interesting than the one from the first game.
Dead But Not Forgotten
I’ve complained a lot, but none of it stopped me playing and enjoying my time. It’s just a lot of little things that I’m aware of and make me think less of the game and its makers, but not enough to out-weigh the slashy, gorey fun.
I went through both games pretending I was a professional zombie hunter on holiday when the blood hit the fan; it both fit surprisingly well and explained some of the absurd skills that my layman protagonist supposedly had. Try it.
That’s pretty much my verdict. Try it. It’s all right. Play Dead Island first. If you liked that, you’ll like this one too.